U's will be stiff test - Burnley boss

COLCHESTER United might be rock bottom of the Championship, but Burnley boss Owen Coyle believes that his side will face their stiffest test of the season this afternoon.

Carl Marston

Colchester soccer, Burnley bit

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United might be rock bottom of the Championship, but Burnley boss Owen Coyle believes that his side will face their stiffest test of the season this afternoon.

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The Clarets are eying up a play-off berth, just two points adrift of the top six, yet they are lumbered with the third worst home record in the division - only Colchester and second-from-bottom Scunthorpe have picked up less points on home turf.

The Lancashire club have already lost at home to a couple of basement clubs this season - QPR and Preston in December. Like those two clubs before them, the U's will clamber off bottom spot if they can beat Burnley, and either Scunthorpe or Preston lose against Sheffield United or Coventry respectively.

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The Clarets gave Arsenal a challenging game in the third round of the FA Cup, and since that narrow 2-0 defeat they have notched three wins on the bounce over Plymouth, Coventry and Scunthorpe, and narrowly lost at league leaders West Brom.

“I think this could be our toughest game of the season,” insisted Clarets boss Coyle. “Colchester are fighting for their lives and they won't want to give up their Championship status.

“I think they are a better team than their league position suggests, so we are going to have to be at our best,” added Coyle.

Burnley recorded only their fourth home win of the season a fortnight ago, thanks to goals from Ade Akinbiyi and Robbie Blake in a 2-0 success over Scunthorpe. Both strikers have now scored seven goals this campaign.

After that match, Iron boss Nigel Adkins confessed: “Burnley were excellent. They were top drawer.”

Last weekend, the Clarets surprised West Brom by taking a third minute lead through midfielder James O'Connor, before sliding to a 2-1 defeat.

Talented Northern Ireland international striker Kyle Lafferty returns to the squad today, after serving a four-match suspension, although midfielder Chris McCann could miss out through injury. Other absentees include centre-half Clarke Carlisle (hamstring) and former Ipswich loanee Alan Mahon (groin).

Coyle has made a couple of shrewd loan signings, at opposite ends of the age scale.

Mark Randall is an 18-year-old midfielder signed on loan from Arsenal for the rest of the season. He is yet to make his Premier League debut for the Gunners, but has made four appearances in the Carling Cup. He was a second-half substitute at West Brom last Saturday.

Likewise, veteran striker Andy Cole was also introduced as a substitute against the Baggies. The 36-year-old former Newcastle, Manchester United and Blackburn star has been recruited on loan from Sunderland.

He joins fellow Sunderland loanee, Stanislav Varga, who has had his stay at Turf Moor extended until the end of the season. Experienced Slovokian international Varga, aged 35, has been impressive in the back four alongside for Ipswich Town defender David Unsworth - the two centre-halves have a combined age of 69.

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